August 18, 2017

Christ the Cornerstone

Pallium is a reminder to follow Lord’s ways, not our own

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“The smile from Pope Francis changed everything for Archbishop-designate Charles C. Thompson. As he approached the Holy Father on June 29 in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, [he]was still reeling from ‘the whirlwind effect’ of being appointed by the pope on June 13 to lead the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. Still, the archbishop-designate tried to savor everything surrounding the approaching moment when Pope Francis would give him a pallium—a woolen band worn over the shoulders that symbolizes his new, closer connection with the pope and his responsibility as the shepherd who will lead the Church in central and southern Indiana.”
(John Shaughnessy, The Criterion, July 7, 2017, issue)

As I approached Pope Francis to receive the pallium, I was paying attention to him wearing his own pallium, and I thought to myself, “Now he’s going to give one to me!” I felt an awesome sense of responsibility.

What really struck me was the Holy Father’s smile as I walked up to him. It was so reassuring, so affirming. That smile spoke volumes to me. I saw him wearing his pallium, and I thought about the awesome fact that he is responsible for the whole Church, and he’s still smiling! That just gave me a sense of tranquility.

Pope Francis gave me the pallium after Mass on the Solemnity of SS. Peter and Paul on June 29, 2017. It was folded up in a small wooden box tied with a brown ribbon. Although it was blessed by the pope in Rome, this simple symbol of pastoral authority and responsibility was not placed on my shoulders until nearly a month later during my installation Mass on July 28 at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral here in Indianapolis. What an honor to be called to serve the Church in this way under the watchful care of these two great saints—Peter the rock, and Paul, who was the first great missionary disciple!

When Pope Francis gave us new archbishops the pallium (which Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin described as a symbol of “the need and really the obligation of the bishop to look for the one who is lost—and then bring the lost one back on his shoulder”), the Holy Father said in his homily:

“Let us ask ourselves if we are parlor Christians, who love to chat about how things are going in the Church and the world, or Apostles on the go, who confess Jesus with their lives because they hold him in their hearts. Those who confess Jesus know that they are not simply to offer opinions, but to offer their very lives.

“They know that they are not to believe half-heartedly, but to ‘be on fire’ with love. They know that they cannot just ‘tread water’ or take the easy way out, but have to risk putting out into the deep, daily renewing their self-offering. Those who confess their faith in Jesus do as Peter and Paul did: they follow him to the end—not just part of the way, but to the very end. They also follow the Lord along his way, not our own ways. His way is that of new life, of joy and resurrection; it is also the way that passes through the cross and persecution.”

This is the challenge that all bishops are called to accept as pastors, shepherds of the flock entrusted to their care. For those of us who are given the additional responsibility to serve as metropolitan archbishops (in my case for the Province of Indianapolis which includes the five Catholic dioceses in Indiana), the pallium serves as a vivid reminder that although the way to Jesus’ new life of joy and resurrection passes through the cross and persecution, in the end his yoke is easy and his burden is light.

I am deeply grateful to Pope Francis for his trust in me and for the great gift he has given me in this archdiocesan Church. In one of his articles for The Criterion, assistant editor John Shaughnessy referred to the “whirlwind effect” of the weeks and months leading up to my appointment as archbishop on June 13, my reception of the pallium on June 29, and my installation as Archbishop of Indianapolis on July 28.

“Whirlwind” describes it perfectly, but by the grace of God and thanks to the incredible support of my family and friends in Kentucky, in southwestern Indiana and in the 39 counties of southern and central Indiana that I now call home, I can truly say that the yoke I have assumed is easy and the burden is light!

For me, authority has always been about service. Please pray for me—that I will be a good and faithful servant of this archdiocese. †

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